The deal comes after a decade’s worth of acrimony and lawsuits that resulted in the tribe halting payments to the state that had been promised as part of a 2010 gambling pact between the state and the tribe. The newly approved compact, as it is also knows, promises that the tribe will pay $2.5 billion to Florida over the first five years.
“Today, all the people of Florida are winners,” said Marcellus Osceola Jr., chair of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. “It is a historic and mutually-beneficial partnership between the state and Seminole Tribe that will positively impact all Floridians for decades to come.”
The Florida House voted 97-17 for the deal, with several Republicans among the no votes. It came one day after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the agreement with the tribe by a 38-1 vote. The vote was expected to usher in the end of the special session.
A handful of Democrats publicly objected to the compact, contending the 30-year agreement was too long and that it would also open the door to future casinos potentially in Miami Beach or at the Doral resort owned by former President Donald Trump.
But opponents also contended the compact was legally suspect because it would allow anyone in the state to use their phones to place bets. Voters in 2018 approved a citizen initiative that requires voter approval to the expansion of casino gambling.
“We are expanding gambling whether you want to try to dance around what that looks like,” said state Rep. Nicholas Duran, a Miami Democrat.
House Democrats tried to force a floor vote on how the billions from the Seminole deal will be spent, arguing that the money should be dedicated to substance abuse and mental health treatment, among other areas.
“We don’t need more tax breaks for rich guys or the corporations that rich guys own,” said state Rep. Joe Geller (D-Aventura). “We have people that are hurting for it.”
But House Republicans contended the amendments were out of order and avoided having their members go on record to criticize them.
The compact cannot take effect until it is reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Interior, but once it’s greenlighted a legal challenge is guaranteed. No Casinos, the group that helped push the 2018 amendment, has already promised to mount a legal fight.
“This fight is just beginning,” said No Casinos President John Sowinski in a statement. “We are committing to ensuring the will of the people, who voted by a 72 [percent] landslide to give Florida voters the exclusive right to authorize casino gambling in our state, will be respected.”
Even House Republicans supporting the legislation admitted they were not sure if the sports betting portion would survive scrutiny by the courts.
“It is an open question,” said Rep. Sam Garrison (R-Fleming Island).
Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, said he thought a court would rule against the state on sports betting, but pointed out that the state will still collect money for other parts of the compact even if that happens.
“This is a good deal for the state,” Fine said. “You can feel good about voting for it.”